Sunday, December 16, 2018

Windows and Mirrors: Portals for Universal Literacy

            ‘Tis the season of giving so I challenge everyone to adopt a classroom and help a teacher “Build Your Stack” chock full of window and mirror books.  #BuildYourStack is the National Council Teachers of English literacy initiative that focuses on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries.  Window and mirror books is my own add-on for giving kids access to books that reflect themselves and the world around them - in a time when this call to action is needed most. 
      
             So what is so formative about window and mirror books?  

The simple fact is we live in a world that is multicultural, plural, and diverse.  It’s time our libraries, classrooms, and homes reflected this important truth. Literature is a socializing agent that literally tells children what the world values through the messages it sends. To wit, every child must have access to MIRROR BOOKS first to confirm and celebrate their reality.  And every child must have access to WINDOW BOOKS to expand their worldview andteach them to be global citizens.

To understand the impact of what this really means, we must understand the power of literature by looking at it through a different lens and avoiding the danger of the single story.  Novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks of the danger of the single story in her beautifully powerful 2009 TED talk.  She warns, “The single story creates stereotypes and problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.  They make one story become the only story.”  

Chimamanda, who grew up in eastern Nigeria, explains to audiences how she learned to read and write at an early age modeling her stories solely after window books.  As a young girl, Chimamanda had no access to mirror books that reflected her reality and this affected her sense of how the world worked.  Now that we know the difference, we must do better…but teachers and librarians need our help!   

This holiday season help a teacher build their stack of window and mirror books that ensure literacy engagement and make reading a joyful and purposeful activity. Let’s empower children with the opportunity to discover the varied richness of our world through the transformative power of literature, one story at a time.  …Because the right book in the right hands can transform a life - and that is the true spirit of Joy, Love, and Peace.   




Sunday, November 11, 2018

Introducing PTA Skills Bundles

I have easily taught thousands of ELA lessons.  As in the case of every teacher, some were textbook home runs and some were complete flops!  In spite of what I perceived to be careful planning, the latter was often a result of a weak or missing component in the lesson.

After reviewing the research, observing hundreds of classes, and reflecting on my own teaching practices, I've created a product called the PTA Skills Bundle that I hope will ensure efficiency and proficiency in the classroom on twenty-two literacy skills most often seen on standardized tests:


  • Analogies
  • Author's Purpose
  • Cause and Effect
  • Characterization
  • Context Clues
  • Fact and Opinion
  • Figurative Language
  • Fragments and Run Ons
  • Genre
  • Inferences
  • Irony
  • Main Idea
  • Mood and Tone
  • Organizational Writing Patterns
  • Parts of Speech
  • Point of View
  • Research and Reliability
  • Sentence Types
  • Story Elements
  • Subject Verb Agreement
  • Titles of Works
  • Transitional Words and Phrases


Specifically, the PTA Skills Bundle includes three research-based, best practice products (PowerPoint, Task Cards, and Assessment) that allow for instruction, practice, and progress monitoring - the three most important components of instruction.

Here’s how it works:
1) You TEACH the skill with an easy-to-understand, comprehensive instructional PowerPoint.
2) Students PRACTICE the skill as they review the content with high yield Task Cards that generate active engagement.
3) You ASSESS the skill with a Common Core-aligned assessment that will let you know in no time who is advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic.


10 Benefits of the PTA Skills Bundle:

➢PTA Bundles are instructional time-friendly!
➢PTA Bundles are perfect for standout evaluations. You’ll shine as your evaluator commends your use of materials, creativity, content, and assessment.
➢PTA Bundles are minimal prep work…it’s all there!
➢PTA Bundles include Common Core-aligned assessments will let you know in no time who is advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic in this important ELA skill.
➢PTA Bundles are time savers…they last for years!
➢PTA Bundles include research-based high yield strategies that keep students actively engaged.
➢PTA Bundles are super sub friendly…Keep them learning even when you’re not there!
➢PTA Bundles have built in standardized test prep, so no need to stress come spring!
➢PTA Bundles make collaboration easy. Share the wealth of your knowledge and resources with your colleagues the easy way.
➢PTA Bundles are Easy for you – Engaging for them!!





Add PTA Skills Bundles to your teaching library today! 

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/PTA-ELA-Skills-Jumbo-Bundle-Volume-1-4156054

https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/PTA-ELA-Skills-Jumbo-Bundle-Volume-2-4156080

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Ten Prompts for NaNoWriMo

Okay, guys!  It's officially NaNoWriMo and the month is getting away from us!  Next week is Thanksgiving and before you know it...

You know where I'm going with this.  If you are finding yourself lacking motivation to get started, here are ten prompts to help pen the first chapter for that award-winning, best-seller:

Ten Prompts for NaNoWriMo

1) A C.E.O. gives a keynote address at a convention when overtaken by a panic attack.

2) A passenger discovers an unattended carryon when flying over the ocean.

3) A book club hostess receives a threatening anonymous note at her own home.

4) A disgruntled claustrophobe finds himself locked in an elevator at work overnight.

5) A weary taxi driver picks up a sinister stranger contemplating suicide who wants to drive around town first.

6) A couple celebrates their anniversary at a cozy restaurant when a mysterious bouquet of flowers is brought to the table.

7) A daughter cleans out her parents’ attic and discovers an urn of ashes.

8) A valedictorian gets arrested for shoplifting right before graduation.

9) An unappreciated secretary calls in sick and goes shopping where she runs into her boss’s wife with another man.

10)  A first-day-on-the-job nanny takes the children to the park where she loses the master key only to have a burglar find it.


Remember, the first rule to writing that novel is No Excuses!  I have to remind myself of that everyday.  NaNoWriMo is a great time to get started, so write on!




Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Students Acting Slothy? Teach Them Something Gothy!

The honeymoon is officially over, and it's about this time that students reveal subtle symptoms of slothy sluggishness.  Consequently, around late September/early October, I reach deep in my literacy bag of tricks for my go-to Gothic Literature unit.  Reading spine-tingling excerpts from DraculaFrankenstein, or Edgar Allan Poe are all but guaranteed to reignite enthusiasm from my students and possibly even the most reluctant of readers who have yet to reveal their literary chops.  (My hope is, in keeping with the theme, they are merely keeping me in suspense!)




That said, before plunging into the dark world of castles, chambers, and creepy cloisters, students require background information on Gothic Literature itself.  It is at this time we examine five basic elements of Gothic Literature, which I have classified into the following categories:


5 Elements of Gothic Literature

1) Elements of Superstition
  • Presence of ghosts, vampires, etc.
  • Unexplained sounds, sights, occurrences
  • Eerie atmosphere
  • Mysterious tone adds to building of tension

2) Emotions and Passions
  • Emotion surpasses rationality
  • Spells of hysteria, lust, and anxiety
  • Frequent crying and screaming
  • Detailed sensory description revealing characters’ passions
  • Characters experience terror and hysteria due to miasmic atmosphere


3) Broken Families
  • Families are often broken, incestuous, or murderous
  • Women subject to lustful wrongdoings 
  • Male characters are tyrannical
  • Women depicted as damsels in distress
  • Family unit confining, from which characters must escape

4) Eerie, mysterious setting
  • Claustrophobic, dark venues such as an old castle, mansion, or abbey
  • Places of fear and dread that portray the world as deteriorating
  • Desperate, dark ruined scenery
  • Surrounding area is dismal and rotting, often adding a haunting flavor of impending doom


5) Distinctive Characters
  • Characters are lonely, isolated, and oppressed
  • Presence of a tyrannical villain 
  • Action revolves around an unrequited love, or illicit love affair 
  • A vendetta or vengeance is a prominent theme

After my students are fully inducted into the world of Gothic Literature, it's time for them to write their own stories.  For inspiration, I offer some creepy music, telling them to listen at their own risk.  (Note to Blog Reader: Play at your own risk!)




Assignment: Write a Gothic Story...

The requirements are as follows:
  • Setting must be a large old house or graveyard
  • An unexplainable, scary event occurs in the house or graveyard 
  • Presence of the supernatural, such as a ghost, vampire, or werewolf
  • Unexplained phenomenon, such as doors slamming shut or lights turning on/off by themselves
  • Highly emotional characters who cry and scream
  • Implementation of Gothic symbols, such as a staircase, shadows, or a full moon.  

With a little inspiration from the darker works of the literary canon, students can't help but get their Goth on.  Whether you are a teacher, writer, or simply have a nagging nostalgia for Manic Panic, it's the perfect time to reach inside YOUR creepy bag of tricks and write your own Gothic tale.  



For more literary Goth inspiration, go to Kimberly's teaching store at:

Monday, September 24, 2018

How Many Banned Books Have You Read?

Do you know it's Banned Books Week?

According to the American Library Association, here is a listing of ten classic books that are subject to being banned in American schools.  How many have you read?  Pick up a banned book this week and celebrate the freedom to read!!




1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

2. The Catcher in the Rye

3. To Kill a Mockingbird

4. Bridge to Terabithia

5. The Lord of the Flies

6. Of Mice and Men

7. The Color Purple

8. Harry Potter Series

9. Slaughterhouse Five

10. The Bluest Eye

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Hooking Reluctant Readers: A Guide for Parents

            Hearing the words, “I hate to read!” can be a parental nightmare, conjuring up images of below basic standardized test scores, remedial classes, or worse – dropping out of school and not going to college.  Yet, it is a universal reality that many parents have reluctant reading spawn – even those parents who firmly classify themselves as voracious readers.  When I meet with parents at conferences, the following scenario is not at all uncommon:

            “What can we do about Tommy?  My husband loves to read.  I love to read.  Tommy’s older sister loves to read.  Tommy’s younger brother loves to read.  The dog loves to read.  But Tommy hates to read!  I don’t understand it.  Help us – Pleeeeease!”

            Seeing the panic in their eyes, I tell the parents the first step is to determine if their child is in fact a reluctant reader (R.R.) or just a passionless one.  To determine where the child is on the Reluctant Reader Richter scale, I ask three questions:

1 - Does your child avoid reading whenever possible?
2 - Does your child complain when doing it?
3 - Does your child have little to no retention or comprehension when they are finished?

            If the answer is yes to all three questions, I tell them it is safe to assume that their child is in fact allergic to books.  And that’s when I smile and say, “Let’s give them an antihistamine they’re going to love.”
         
RR Strategy#1 - Ownership

            Parents should allow children to choose their own books.  If children “see” themselves in what they read, they will naturally become more interested in reading.  Guide your child to books classified as Hi/Lo (High interest / Low Level).  These books have major RR appeal: humor, a face paced plot, kid relevance, and visual appeal.  I also encourage parents to give their child a monthly or weekly book allowance so they can start their own personal library.  Make their bedroom a literary lair by preparing a reading corner with comfy pillows and beanbags.  Decorate the walls with book cover posters or have your child design their own.

RR Strategy #2 - Keep It Fun!

            Eventually kids will read independently, but before they to, they need to have a series of positive experiences.  Make reading relaxing and low key.  Allow them to read graphic novels, joke books, and choose-your-own adventure books.  Encourage them to read aloud funny or interesting parts of the book.  Utilize technology and download audio or e-books.  Dispel any Rigid Reading Rules your child has picked up in the past.  For example, it’s okay not to finish a book.  I even tell my students I have my own page 7 rule.  If a book doesn’t grab me by page 7, I put it down and choose something else.  A reluctant reader might have a page 1 or 2 rule, and that’s okay.  On the flip side, it’s okay to reread a favorite book, as this builds fluency and confidence through repetition.  Be patient with your child and don’t EVER use reading as a form of punishment.  Remember, positive associations are essential.

RR Strategy #3 – Be a Buddy

            Finally, be your child’s reading buddy. Schedule regular library or local bookstore visits.  Assist with comprehension in a disarming way by asking open-ended questions:


·      Why do you think the character did __________________?
·      What would you change the title to?
·      Who would you want as a best friend?
·      What was your favorite part?

When your child has a book report at school, work with the teacher to ensure a positive experience.  Ask if they can choose their own book and if extra time is needed, request an extension.  Most teachers understand the plight of the reluctant reader and want to be a part of the solution.

            A love of reading is a lifelong gift parents can give their children.  Like any pursuit, some children are more receptive than others.  Nevertheless, by giving your child ownership, making reading, fun, and being a partner in child’s journey as a reader, your reluctant reader will turn voracious in no time.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Join Me at Killer Nashville



Join me Saturday, August 25th, at the Killer Nashville Writers Conference as I present about writing suspense for Young Adults.



Saturday, August 25th, 2018 
Embassy Suites Hotel - Franklin, TN

Event description: The Killer Nashville International Writers’ Conference was created in 2006 by author/filmmaker Clay Stafford in an effort to bring together forensic experts, writers, and fans of crime and thriller literature.  It is indeed a killer conference (pun intended!) as aspiring and established writers connect with other industry professionals at panel discussions, breakout sessions, agent/editor roundtables, a moonshine and wine tasting party, and a killer mock crime scene!  Let the thrills and chills begin!!